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Former World Chess Champion Deported from Japan to Iceland

Japan has deported former world chess champion Bobby Fischer. The fugitive American, who was granted Icelandic citizenship this week, is now headed for his new country.

Japan rebuffed a U.S. government request to hand over Bobby Fischer to face charges of violating international sanctions for playing a 1992 chess match in the former Yugoslavia.

Instead, on Thursday, Mr. Fischer, with a long gray and white beard, rode in the Icelandic ambassador's limousine to Narita International Airport. There, with his new Icelandic passport in hand, he boarded a flight bound for Denmark.

His release Thursday ended eight months in detention here, following his arrest for trying to leave Japan with revoked U.S. passport.

Before Mr. Fischer's release, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli urged Japan to deport the former chess champion to the United States.

"There are outstanding charges against Mr. Fischer that we believe should be addressed in the United States and that is what, frankly, we are looking (for) to happen," he said.

Once Mr. Fischer was granted an Icelandic passport, however, he had an option of being deported to the United States or Iceland.

During his time in detention in Japan, Mr. Fischer's lawyer and a few opposition members of Japan's Parliament had fought to keep him from being sent to the United States.

A U.S. federal arrest warrant for Mr. Fischer was issued 13-years-ago after he won three-and-half million dollars in a victorious rematch against rival Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia. By competing there, Mr. Fischer violated a U.S. and a United Nations ban on engaging in economic activity in that country.

For years, Mr. Fischer, who is 62, has been a virtual recluse. Occasionally, however, he has called a Philippines radio station to broadcast rambling anti-Semitic statements and praising the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. While in detention in Japan, Mr. Fischer tried to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

His plight in Japan during the past eight months attracted little attention domestically. Mr. Fischer, despite his international fame, is virtually unknown here and he spent much of the past several years in the country, apparently relishing his anonymity.

In Iceland, however, the fugitive American is a well-known celebrity. Chess fans there lobbied for the country's Parliament to pass a special act and grant him citizenship. It was in Iceland in 1972 that Mr. Fischer was crowned as the first American world chess champion after defeating Mr. Spassky in a tough 21-game battle.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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